The first hint that something was amiss came at 2:30 a.m. on Friday morning, December 16, at our Saginaw home. I was jolted out of a deep sleep when Bryn came to our bed and gave a tiny whimper. This never happens. My eyes shot open: there she was, looking frightened, her bewhiskered face inches from mine. I leaped out of bed to follow her as she dashed headlong down the stairs to the front door. I let her out, and she vanished into the freezing darkness. Throwing on a robe I ran outside too, to see her frantically squatting by the far fence. Squat, run, squat, run- she never ‘assumed the position’ for more than a breath. After a minute more of this erratic behavior she crept back to the front steps. We moved inside and she went right to her bed.
What was happening?
Ding! Suddenly, I knew. Bryn had spent Thursday at a favorite Saginaw doggie daycare, a place she really enjoys. I’d dimly remembered a new worker there...
I rang at opening time, 7 a.m., enquired, and when they checked it was discovered that the new caregiver had fed her some doggie cookies containing wheat flour, cane sugar and other additives. Everyone else knew Bryn couldn’t have anything except what l prepared. But the new employee had not been briefed yet, on her first day, which had begun that mid-afternoon, about two hours before I picked her up.
(I so appreciated that they’d told the truth. What a class act! It would have been easy to deny everything, but the animals’ welfare came first, with possible down-the-road legal problems a distant haunt. Their information led to a quick diagnosis and effective treatment.)
Small intake mistakes had happened before, when, for example, our houseguests had unwittingly slipped her a forbidden morsel. No big deal.
We’d just monitor her. The gastric distress would likely resolve itself, as it had in the past...
We packed up to return to Traverse City after walking the property with Bryn one last time to insure that she was good to go.
But halfway to our destination, at a rest stop, she produced watery, faintly reddish stools on her walk, and looked uncomfortable and anxious. She resettled into her backseat nest, however, and slept the rest of the way up.
She refused all food for the second day (her last morning meal had been eaten early Thursday morning, before daycare), wanting only sleep.
Very early Saturday morning, though, poor Bryn fell apart.
She woke me at 4 a.m. wanting out again- highly unusual- and when she staggered up the back steps again, she was trembling. I gently cleaned her red, tender hind end. Suddenly she made retching noises, and brought up copious amounts of bloody foam. Then I noticed the kitchen floor. My God! Pools of bright, opaque red vomit were everywhere. Horrified, I ran into the living room and dining room to find eight more areas of thick, vivid red, odorless vomit on the carpet.
Bryn was deathly ill.
I rushed upstairs to wake Joe. We drove her straight to the 24/7 Bay Area Emergency Veterinary Hospital, about two miles from our door.
The doctor examined her, noting alarming dehydration. Her skin was two sizes too large. Bryn stood quietly in the lobby, legs spread so as not to tip over, and looked into space vacantly. It was a thousand-yard stare.
She walked weakly into the treatment room.
The doctor drew blood and ran tests.
Her lab results were alarming.
Hematocrit up, electrolytes askew, pancreas, liver and kidney indicators tentative, heart fluttery...
X-rays showed a distended bowel with no obstructions.
The diagnosis: acute Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis, HGE, a potentially lethal condition that manifests suddenly in otherwise healthy dogs.
Usually because they’ve eaten something they can’t tolerate.
Bryn has always had an irritable bowel, a condition that sometimes manifests in white labradoodles. After meticulous research and food tests to determine what works for her, I’ve developed a successful dietary plan. On it, she’s been absolutely fine. The daycare centers know never to offer alien food. But just that one innocent mistake- offering a few dog cookies to cement a budding relationship- was killing her.
Bryn was gently settle into a roomy, thickly padded cage, and an IV was started. She was so dry! (She’d drunk deeply from her bowl just before we left for the ER: seconds later every bit of it came up again all over the kitchen floor.)
She barely noticed when we left the hospital.
(Interestingly, Cholera’s (human) victims can be saved with IV rehydration, if administered without delay. Antibiotics should follow, but first and foremost is fluid replacement, to prevent organ failure. In the Third World, though, prompt access to this simple life-saving treatment is often unavailable. Death comes quickly.)
All night long the staff monitored her re-hydration. It took three bags. Drip by drop, she began to gain ground. Lab tests were repeated twice to check her blood chemistry. An IV anti-emetic helped prevent retching.
Bryn refused the staff’s attempts to hand-feed her the food that I’d left. She could manage only a token urination when they took her wobbly self outside early on Sunday morning.
Later that morning the doctor asked me to try to hand-feed her. (She hadn’t eaten in three days) so I brought in a very small portion of Wellness 95% grain-free ground lamb, sprinkled with a few Orijen kibbles, a favorite meal. She sniffed my palm, then, with encouragement, slowly managed to get it down her ravaged throat. An encouraging sign!
I took her outside to see if she would void. She stood absolutely still, staring blankly at nothing, but then suddenly sidled up to the snow bank to scoop up the cold stuff. The doctor was delighted! Who cared how she took in water? She bit into the pristine snow over and over until sated, then urinated a tiny bit. Her kidneys were reviving!
The Big Question: could she keep down that bit of food and snow-water?
We left her in their care, much more hopeful now. “Well,” mused the Doctor, “if she doesn’t vomit her intake, or show signs of lower bowel distress, and if her lab results continue to show improvement, you can take her home this evening.”
My doctor-husband would monitor her closely. We’d rush her back to the ER if necessary.
She’d need Metronidazole, an intestinal antibiotic- twice daily until all pills were gone. And, we’d need to note her water intake, and make sure she was taken outside, especially during her first night home.
Bryn didn’t vomit, and so was released Sunday evening. (She’d been there two days and one night...) She was thin, exhausted, and so very glad to settle into her own bed. We had to coax her to go outside, but it was a good thing we did, as she urinated for a long time, every time. Hooray! Her kidneys were up and running!
Monday she downed a bit of warm mash, twice, from her bowl, but then retired to her snug cave bed.
Tuesday, she ate well, and began to look around outside. Still, her nose didn’t even twitch. She simply stood motionless on the driveway and stared vacantly, moving only when I absolutely insisted.
She still hadn’t pooped.
And what about that stillness? It was as though she’d ‘switched off.’
Maybe she’d thought she was done with life, and then realized she was not –which required a massive mental recalibration?
Maybe I was overthinking this...
On Wednesday I began to really worry about her lack of a poop, and that weird immobility outside.
What would happen if I kick-started her psychological engine?
I helped her into the car and off we went to PetSmart, where she stood, taking it in, and then slowly wandered about, sniffing food bags and other visiting dogs. This small adventure, on a less busy shopping afternoon, really cheered her. Her nose, awakened now, got busy; she happily followed it up and down the aisles. The sight warmed my heart.
Hmmm, thought I...We’re only ten minutes from a favorite dog park. It’s 36 degrees outside right now (practically a heat wave)- not 5 degrees. Dare I take her there? Might it be too soon? Would a little gallop wake up her bowels?
She whimpered with pleasure, and trotted into the park to sniff two friendly Labrador retrievers. A gangly pup happily began to chase her.
But then- in mid-gallop, Bryn skidded to a stop.
Ran to a far corner... and, by golly, she pooped. After nearly a week of nothing! I was so happy! I collected it, noting that the color and consistency were NORMAL. (We’d been warned that bloody stools could show up until her intestinal wall had completely healed.)
Hooray! Dangling the poo bag, I did my Snoopy dance! Bryn had turned the corner!
Five minutes later she sidled up to me and asked to leave. We drove home in triumph. She slept deeply for many hours.
Ahhh, so did I. The weight of the world had fallen from my shoulders.
-Bryn lost over four pounds in the first two or three days of the HGE assault, falling from 53.5 lbs. to 49. That’s a scary-fast drop.
-The bill was almost exactly $1,000.00. But that wonderful hospital saved her life. This is exactly the sort of situation that our savings account lives for. (By the way, Joe pointed out that the same diagnosis and hospital treatment for a human being would cost over $5,000- and achieve precisely the same result.)
-Our bloody carpets are done for. But hey, they’re elderly, anyway.
The most important thing: Our beloved Bryn is alive! And well!
It’s an awesome Christmas present!
And No, we won’t sue. I hate that sort of thing.
There was no malicious intent, for heaven’s sake.
They were horrified by the oversight.
Mistakes happen. No sense smacking down a small, excellent business and its caring staff.
And Yes, I’ll certainly take Bryn back there. They’ll do their best for her, as usual.
Happy Christmas and a joyous holiday to all!!